Tag Archives: traffic

Op-Ed: Concerns that linger about Chanate deal

Maggie Bradley, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

I have three serious concerns regarding the Chanate Road property development. The first one is about the manner in which the Board of Supervisors handled the sale and future development of the taxpayer-owned land surrounding the property. The second is the manner and way the public’s concerns were handled by Supervisor Shirlee Zane. And the final concern is about the lack of sustainability in the building and development of this new community.

The first issue has to do with accessibility and information. Who has it and how do they get it? What I know, based on the reporting done by The Press Democrat and from others, is that there were two proposals vying for the development contract. Two supervisors had only read Bill Gallaher’s proposal prior to the vote.

The property to be developed is in Zane’s district. Gallaher is a generous donor to select individuals running for public office. Zane is a recipient of Gallaher’s generosity. Komron Shahhosseini, an employee of Gallaher’s, is a member of the Sonoma County Planning Commission who was appointed by Zane. Although this project will be decided by the Santa Rosa City Council, Planning Commission members can have major influence on development projects throughout the county. Gallaher was awarded the bid and plans to build 800 new homes. Shahhosseini is now a partner of Gallaher’s and is the development’s project manager.

The other proposal, from Curt Johansen, included approximately 500 homes and was designed as a completely sustainable development.

The second concern has to do with Zane’s response to the distress expressed by the public over the traffic and scope of this development. Do the math. The impact of more than 800 new homes (most likely with two cars) making between 1,600 (one car, two trips, to and from work) and 3,200 (two cars, two trips) trips on two-lane roads must not be tossed off as unimportant. Include the traffic from the new retail area and apartment complex. Then consider the minimal public transit available in that district. It is a recipe for a traffic nightmare and certain gridlock.

Zane’s response to that legitimate concern (I’m paraphrasing) was to say that she had recently driven the road several times and the traffic wasn’t that bad.The public’s anxious concerns regarding potential development (more homes) on Paulin Creek Preserve were earlier diminished as likely irrelevant. What was disappointing was Zane’s passing the buck and blaming the mix up on “staff,” dramatically declaring that she was “blindsided” by the news (“Sonoma County signals intent to protect Santa Rosa meadow,” May 4). However, when the news broke a few months ago, it was treated as no big deal.

Zane seemed confident that something would be unearthed during the environmental review that would somehow render the issue of building on the preserve moot. What and why? If the preserve can’t be built on for environmental reasons, how can the land right next to it be developed?

Finally, the votes in favor of Sonoma Clean Power and the SMART train are strong indicators to our elected leaders that we as a community want to move more toward sustainability. I could find no mention of sustainable building in Gallaher’s proposal.The other proposal by Johansen had sustainability baked into the development on all levels.

As a medium-sized city, Santa Rosa has an opportunity to become the national model for sustainable development. Let’s grab it.

Maggie Bradley is a 40-year resident of Sonoma County whose son was born at the former Community Hospital on Chanate Road and has been closely following plans for development of the site. She lives in Santa Rosa.

Source: Close to Home: Concerns that linger about Chanate deal | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Op-Ed: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards

Janis Watkins, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s stunning rural beauty, pristine coast, charming small towns and scenic wine valleys are unique characteristics that draw visitors by the thousands. The boom in tourism has many benefits, including more jobs, increased tax revenues for the county and cities and a lively social vibrancy. But that success has also brought impacts.

Affordable housing in Wine Country has been hit hard by the tourism boom. Although tourists didn’t cause the housing crisis, tourism has exacerbated it. Residents are seeing the loss of housing stock to owners of second homes, Airbnb rentals and outside investors drawn by our local charm, who gentrify or “scrape and replace” neighborhood homes.In Healdsburg, an affluent visitor destination, 21 mostly Hispanic families suffered mass eviction by an outside investor. Some neighborhoods are hollowed out, degenerating into a set of part-time strangers. Low-paying tourism jobs are increasing, worsening the affordable housing deficit.

The increased number of tasting rooms, with evermore intense events, raises the specter of “Napafication.” Rural residents experience traffic congestion, loss of rural character, noise and out-of-scale alcohol tourism-related development. Two-lane Highway 12 is already over capacity with traffic, especially in the northern Sonoma Valley where special events attract more than 170,000 people annually. Approved and modified permits for five facilities alone will add another 25,000 vehicle trips. Similar over-concentration occurs on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley.

In Healdsburg, 37 tasting rooms are concentrated downtown, and they will pay top dollar, driving up rents to where other types of businesses have a hard time competing. For about half the year, tourism swells the population, which puts stress on public services at local taxpayer expense. Sonoma, the other plaza town, has a similar pattern. These tourist-focused towns have fewer services and less space for locals, less diverse economies and are vulnerable to boom-and-bust economic cycles. As once thriving communities become more commercialized, and their assets degrade, they lose their unique qualities, and tourists move on to more charming locations.

Solutions are at hand. Increasingly, Sonoma County is looking for ways to preserve the robust benefits of agricultural tourism, while balancing tourism with local residents’ needs and promoting a diverse economy.

The Board of Supervisors directed development of zoning code amendments, siting criteria and standards for winery events to address the impacts of wine-related tourism. Supervisors have signaled that new development in areas of concentration will face greater scrutiny and guidelines to limit detrimental concentrations and impacts to rural character from business activity in the Sonoma Valley, on Westside Road and in the Dry Creek Valley. Developers have their sights on coastal areas. Luckily, county planners recently put a hold on a wine-tasting, brew pub and art venue proposal in the historic village of Freestone.

“Sustainable tourism” is also being discussed in Healdsburg and Sonoma. City and local leaders are considering how to create sustainable tourism, and the mayor of Sonoma is seeking coordination with Healdsburg on this effort. Sonoma County Conservation Action, a leader in grass-roots environmental issues, supports this collaborative approach. The process should involve broad outreach to residents, environmentalists and the lodging, wine and business sectors, and it should create specific enforceable measures that protect the carrying capacity of communities and balance the needs of tourism and residents.

Janis Watkins, a resident of Healdsburg, is a member of the board of directors of Conservation Action. 

Source: Close to Home: The time has come to create ‘sustainable tourism’ standards | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Sonoma County officials gather input on proposed hotel expansion at Graton Resort and Casino

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Traffic, crime and groundwater use were among the main concerns raised by residential neighbors of the Graton Resort and Casino during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening to discuss a proposal to double the size of the casino’s new 200-room hotel, which opened last November outside Rohnert Park.

The expansion, proposed by the casino’s owner, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, would add 211,328 square feet of building space to the existing 300,000-square-foot hotel, according to the draft tribal environmental impact report, released in March.

The casino, opened in November 2013, occupies more than 300,000 square feet.The town hall, hosted by Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, drew about 50 people to the Stony Point Christian Fellowship, located a little more than 2 miles north of the casino.

Officials from several county agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, County Counsel’s Office and the Transportation and Public Works department, attended the meeting to review the 853-page draft environmental impact report and respond to questions from the public.

Read more at: Sonoma County officials gather input on proposed hotel expansion at Graton Resort and Casino | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Transportation, Water

Roblar Road quarry back before Sonoma County officials for environmental review

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

One of Sonoma County’s most controversial mining projects is showing public signs of progress again, nearly three years after it survived a hard-fought legal challenge and well over a decade after it was first proposed.

Next up for the planned quarry project off Roblar Road west of Cotati is an additional round of environmental review, which was triggered after the owner requested some changes to the conditions tied to county officials’ approval of the development more than six years ago.

Quarry developer John Barella wants permission to adjust the design of a road intersection his project is required to improve, reduce the width of a road he must expand and relocate a portion of a creek on which the project will encroach. The effects of the proposed changes will be studied by a consultant hired this week by county supervisors.

Barella, the former owner of North Bay Construction, first proposed the quarry in 2003, and a split Board of Supervisors signed off on it in December 2010, setting off a long legal fight waged by opponents concerned by the project’s environmental impacts.

But those opponents lost in July 2014, when a state appellate court upheld the county’s approval of the project and reversed a lower court ruling on all counts.

Read more at: Roblar Road quarry back before Sonoma County officials for environmental review | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Land Use

Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The plan will be informally introduced at a town hall meeting held by west county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins in April or early May, officials said.

Guerneville is out and Graton is now in as a potential destination for Occidental’s wastewater.

What may sound like west county musical chairs is actually the latest chapter in a 20-year effort to find an alternative for Occidental’s wastewater treatment plant, which has been under state orders since 1997 to quit discharging treated effluent into Dutch Bill Creek, a Russian River tributary and coho salmon spawning stream.

A plan to send five to 15 truckloads of untreated wastewater a day up Bohemian Highway to Guerneville was scrapped in response to protests from Guerneville residents, and officials are now considering delivery to Graton, where the local community services district has issued what amounts to an invitation.

“We’re taking a look at what might be a better option,” said Ann DuBay of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which operates the Occidental and Guerneville treatment systems and six others in the county.

Engineers are working out the details of the Occidental-to-Graton transfer between two small, rural communities, with a recommendation expected to go to the Board of Supervisors in the fall, said Cordel Stillman, the Water Agency’s deputy chief engineer.

Read more at: Graton may be next stop for Occidental wastewater | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

River residents castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Public comment on the project’s environmental document, called the Initial Study and Negative Declaration, will be accepted through this Friday, Feb. 24, said Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay. After the deadline, water agency staffers will look at the comments and determine whether the environmental review has been adequate or needs more work. “It could take a few months” before the environmental review is complete, said DuBay.

A full house of concerned river residents admonished the Sonoma County Water Agency last week over plans to truck the town of Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal.Her neighborhood is “prepared to do anything necessary to stop this absurd idea,” said Guerneville resident Susan Packer, who owns vacation rental property adjacent to the transfer site.

With Occidental’s sewage set to be trucked daily to a pumping station on Riverside Drive, where ongoing problems include odors and recent collection system overflows during Russian River flooding, “you certainly can’t handle any increase,” in sewage coming into the pump station, said Packer.Neighbors organized as the West Guernewood Action Group agree the transfer project is “incompatible and ill-considered” and are talking to an attorney, Noreen Evans, to represent them in opposition to the project, said Packer.

The united crowd of more than 100 people packed into the Monte Rio Community Center last week had little good to say about the project that would help the town of Occidental meet a state-imposed deadline to bring its sewage disposal methods up to code and avoid fines that could hit $10,000 per day. Occidental’s compliance deadline is Jan 1., 2018, said Sonoma County Water Agency Deputy Chief Engineer Cordel Stillman.

“We know there are some issues” with trucking the town’s sewage to Guernewood Park, where it would then be piped under the Russian River to the Russian River Sanitation District’s sewage treatment plant on Neeley Road, said Stillman at last week’s public hearing hosted by the water agency. The trucking project was hammered out during talks in Occidental last year when Occidental residents rejected a water recycling plan there because of the prohibitive cost.

Trucking the sewage to Guerneville was seen as a stopgap measure that would give Occidental ”breathing room” until a more permanent solution is found, said Stillman.

The meeting in the Monte Rio Community Center was the first real public forum for river residents to weigh in on the transfer plan that was hatched last year as a way to solve Occidental’s inability to find an affordable sewage disposal plan so that the town’s wastewater does not pollute Dutch Bill Creek.

Read more at: River rats castigate county over Occidental sewage trucking | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Scenic Route” sign on Highway 12 announces the obvious to motorists heading into the Valley of the Moon. It’s cradled by mountains, dotted with giant oaks, horse ranches, vineyards, remnants of old orchards and the odd water tower.

The road delivers inspiring views of imposing Hood Mountain, its craggy face standing sentinel over a historic route from Santa Rosa to Sonoma that carried stagecoaches and trains before the automobile took over.But today, the two-lane highway is crowded with traffic generated by commuters, residential and commercial development, sightseers and visitors headed to wineries and tasting rooms.

winery map, Sonoma Valley

Winery Expansion on Sonoma Highway 12 (Press Democrat, from Sonoma County PRMD, October 2016.)

The northern arm of Sonoma Valley, between Madrone and Melita roads, is home to more than 40 tasting rooms and event centers that each year attract more than 140,000 people to special events. They could be joined by another half-dozen or more tasting rooms and more than 110 annual special events with 20,000 more people if permits in the pipeline previously approved, but not yet built, are exercised.

The burgeoning wine industry and plans for a high-end luxury hotel, spa and winery off La Campagna Lane in Kenwood have especially drawn attention and opposition while highlighting the impact of development along the county’s busiest wine road.

The growth has set off alarms among rural residents concerned about the loss of agricultural land and the vehicles and noise generated by winery events, especially on weekends. They raise the specter of “Napafication,” the fear that roads will become as clogged as in Napa Valley, where traffic on Highway 29 slows to a long crawl on Saturdays and Sundays when visitors stream to the abundant large corporate-owned wineries.

Read more at: Sonoma Valley growth sparks debate over area’s future

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living, Transportation

Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES

A county plan to truck Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal appears to be stopped up for now owing to neighborhood opposition and possible legal issues.

Guernewood Park neighbors near the site where sewage would be unloaded at a Russian River Sanitation District pump station met with new Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins last week to vent their concerns about neighborhood truck traffic, potential odors and other compatibility issues if the sewage plan goes forward.

A sympathetic Hopkins told neighbors there may also be a legal problem if proposed pump station improvements, including a new paved driveway under the redwoods at the site, constitute an expansion of the sewer system onto vacant residential property next door.

“I don’t see how we can say that’s not an expansion,” said Hopkins, regarding a proposed new turnaround that sewage trucks would need on the property next to the lift station located between Highway 116 and Riverside Dr.

Sonoma County acquired the neighboring property in the 1980s as part of a legal settlement with the owner; a condition of the sale included an agreement that the county would not expand sewage system operations onto the neighboring property, said Hopkins. The previous owner had a house on the property that was in the path of a prevailing breeze carrying the lift station’s smell. The county demolished the house.

The deed restriction only surfaced last week after neighbors began asking questions about the Occidental sewage transfer plan that seemed to have been formulated with numerous discussions among Occidental Sanitation District residents but little or no dialogue with Guerneville residents whose properties would be impacted by the sewage transfer process involving from five to 15 daily truck deliveries of raw sewage arriving at the Riverside Drive lift station.

A Sonoma County Water Agency environmental review of the plan last year concluded it would have “no significant impact” on the Riverside Drive environment, but neighbors last week said they were never told about the project and are prepared to challenge the environmental finding in court.

Read more at: Occidental sewage transfer may be stalled by legalities – Sonoma West Times and News: News

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation, Water

Guerneville: ‘no thanks’ to Occidental sewage

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES

Guernewood Park residents weren’t exactly crying ‘Oh, thank-you’ this week to a Christmas gift of raw sewage from their Occidental neighbors.

“Totally unacceptable,” said Susan Packer, a Guernewood Park vacation homeowner whose property is on Riverside Drive adjacent to where the County of Sonoma wants to deliver Occidental’s sewage.“

This is a residential neighborhood,” said Packer, writing on the Nextdoor Guernewood Park email site where alarmed neighbors are now talking about the plan, announced two days before Christmas, to truck Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville for treatment and disposal. “We should not be the repository of Occidental’s problems,” said Packer.

The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) sent notices of the project to Guerneville neighbors two weeks ago describing the project and opening a public review window that closes in two more weeks, at 5 p.m. on Jan. 23. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to give final approval after a public hearing scheduled for March 21.

Some Guernewood Park neighbors say that’s too fast and the rush to bring Occidental’s sewage to Guerneville seems a little hurried considering that Occidental residents have been arguing for more than 20 years about how to dispose of their sewage. One thing Occidental ratepayers agree on is that it’s too expensive to keep the sewage in Occidental when it can be trucked to Guerneville where the town treatment plant operates at about half capacity.

But the abrupt notification and brief public review window are problematic, said Guernewood Park resident Richard Skaff.

“Things have been happening with no public discussion,” said Skaff, who asked newly elected Fifth District supervisor Lynda Hopkins this week to hold a community meeting in Guerneville so that “local residents could hear about the plan and provide you with their thoughts and concerns,” said Skaff, in an email to Hopkins this week.

The Occidental Sanitation District would transport about 15,000 gallons of raw sewage per day to a Russian River Sanitation District lift station sandwiched between Highway 116 and Riverside Drive in Guernewood Park. From there the sewage would be mixed with Guerneville’s sewage and pumped to the River District treatment plant on Neeley Road in Vacation Beach.

The Guerneville Transport Compliance Project would enable Occidental to stop draining its treated wastewater into Dutch Bill Creek in the winter.

Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay said anyone with questions about the Occidental project should call her for information and guidance on the environmental issues and approval process. Her number is 524-8578.The public review period ends Jan. 23 at 5 p.m. Comments should be submitted to Jeff Church, 404 Aviation Blvd, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 or to jchurch@scwa.ca.gov.

Source: Guerneville: ‘no thanks’ to Occidental sewage – Sonoma West Times and News: News

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Tension flares between wineries and residents

 Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER

“Right now, there are some areas of severe over-concentration, i.e. Valley of the Moon, West Side Road and Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg,” notes Padi Selwyn, one of the co-founders of Preserve Rural Sonoma County, an organization advocating to protect the area’s rural character. The County of Sonoma’s general plan had projected 239 wineries in place by the year 2020, yet has approved nearly 500 wineries to date, with more in the pipeline, she adds.

While many wine regions in California have been growing by leaps and bounds, few have developed at the recent pace of Sonoma County.

According to the Santa Rosa, California-based Permit and Resource Development Management Department of Sonoma County, from 2000 to 2015 there was a 300 percent increase in new winery facilities. Sonoma County was home to 127 wineries in 2000 and has nearly 450 now.

More wineries offer a wider spectrum of wine-tasting experiences – food-pairing options and party venues have been attracting more locals, and visitors, along with more traffic and with it sometimes drunk drivers. While winery owners may be thrilled about some of the results, many local residents clearly are not.

The Napa Valley long ago emerged as California’s leading wine region. Careful planning in the region set aside much of the area’s land for agriculture by creating the US’s first Agricultural Preserve in 1968, according to Patsy McGaughy, the St Helena, California-based communications director for the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV).

This pioneering legislation was followed two decades later by the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), which was enacted in 1990. It has since dictated how many wineries can be open to the public, serve food and number of visitors and events each can host per year.

“The reason Napa became a brand and can command premium value both for wine and for land, pay its workers well and support public services as a result, is because of the genius of the Wine Definition Ordinance, defining wineries as an agricultural use [of the land],” according to Barbara Insel, president and CEO of the Stonebridge Research Group, a wine industry analyst.

While other wine regions have yet to see nearly the same level of consumer interest and have allowed their regions to grow naturally, Santa Barbara hit a snag after the 2004 release of Sideways. The film sent reams of tourists rushing to the area’s wineries and restaurants, and clogged the 5000-resident Danish-themed town of Solvang located in the center of its wine country.

“The tension started after Sideways,” agreed Morgen McLauglin, the executive director or the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association. Locals saw wineries as bringing visitors that clogged roads, caused traffic jams and encouraged drunk drivers. One of the results of that uptick in visitors led to a winery ordinance that the region has been working on for four years. One that McLauglin says is among the most restrictive in terms of the number of tasting rooms permitted.

Read more at: Tension Flares Between Wineries and Residents | Wine News & Features

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living